Codeco Stories

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Almost 600 days since our first press conference, many questions, no answer in the form of a dialogue, no questioning or doubts from the power in front. Memory of those hours spent showing you that they work for something other than the common good, while they cut off the microphone, started the end credits in the middle of a question, prevented us from entering the conference for more than eight months… state censorship. Imagine for a moment, if all these questions had been debated democratically…

CODECO N°1 15 APRIL 2020 

-Alexandre Penasse: You often thank the Belgians for their participation and their obedience, their civility. You also talk about a before and after Covid-19. So I really wonder if there will be an after covid19? And I’m going to be a bit disturbing, I’m going to tell you about Mr. Philippe De Backer who worked from 2009 to 2011 at Vesalius Biocapital, and you choose him as head of the task force in charge of the research of essential materials to fight against the coronavirus. Vesalius is an investment fund specialized in healthcare in Luxembourg. It should be noted that in his media cabinet, there was Luc Windmolders, Minister of Media, who works for KPN and is involved in imposing 5G on us. So I don’t see a lot of precautionary principles in your government. We can also talk about Bart Vermeulen, responsible for pharmaceutical policy in Maggie De Block’s cabinet… He was head of economics at pharma.be. Let’s also talk about Marc Van Ranst who was on the Influenza Committee in 2009 and who was paid by the multinational GSK. So my question is, in relation to the decisions you are making now, what democratic legitimacy is there to make these kinds of decisions when most of the members who decide and think are part of the multinationals and finance? (…) 

-Sophie Wilmès : You have just introduced in this press room the politically biased question, which in general, is not the habit of journalists. Either. I would still like to remind you
that people are free to work, to change careers, to decide to commit themselves to the common good, no matter what they have done before, and I can guarantee you that it is not the company you work for that defines the man or woman you are. In any case, this is the fundamental freedom in which we still believe in this country. I would like to remind you, in order to get out of the controversy, of the decision-making process in which we are involved, i.e. groups of experts who, because of their knowledge, their experience, and their willingness to devote themselves, outside of their working hours, without compensation, to the common good. They work day and night to provide us with advice. Behind this, the political decision is what it is, i.e. it is up to the politician. It is the politician who makes these decisions, and behind or before the politician, there are elections, and then there are also votes of confidence in Parliament. There is also a willingness on the part of this federal government to broaden membership, since, while it is not obliged to do so, it makes these decisions in agreement with the federated entities on matters fundamental to the health and lives of our citizens. 

CODECO N°2 27 NOVEMBER 2020 

-Alexandre Penasse: Tens of thousands of unemployed, a massive increase in suicides, exacerbated family violence, people put on the street, massive school dropout, divorces, alcoholism, social violence, increase in psychiatric cases, loss of reference especially among young people totally unable to project themselves into the future, students in higher education riveted in front of screens all day, in depression, impoverished by the absence of a job In order to assess the cost-benefit ratio of policy measures taken against Covid: when will we account for the social, economic and health consequences of these measures? Don’t you think that the supposedly beneficial effects of your measures are counterbalanced by their negative consequences? 

-Alexander De Croo: Sir, do you know how many people have lost their lives because of Covid? Do you know what the medical cost is of people who should have been entitled to care who were not? I think you are underestimating or I think you are in denial, but we see that the societal impact of this crisis on the medical side is enormous and I think that the measures we are taking are measures that are completely justified. 

CODECO N°3 18 DECEMBER 2020 

-Alexandre Penasse: There are many people who have questioned the vaccination scheme, which seems unavoidable, but you never answer these questions. The debate seems to be completely closed in Belgium. Isn’t this Covid crisis managed in a totally undemocratic way like many other things that should concern us all? Is the vaccine the only solution? 

-Alexander De Croo : Yes, we let ourselves be advised by scientists, and so far I haven’t seen a serious scientist who explains to me that there is another solution 

AP: I’ve seen a lot of that as a journalist. 

ADC: You … you see other than me, but all the serious scientists tell me that the only solution is the vaccine and we would start vaccinating at the end of the year. 

-AP: Can we discuss this democratically, Mr. De Croo? People certainly understand that you want to save lives, but they don’t understand why you haven’t done it before. You are now talking about a third wave, at the third we will talk about the fourth perhaps. What have you done since March to try to stem this? Especially for public hospitals. 

-ADC: We have refinanced hospitals to the tune of at least 4 billion. Measures were taken that were very severe, and in a period of 8 weeks, we went from the worst student to today. There are few countries that do better than us, but if you think there is a magic solution to manage this crisis, show it to me! And show me a country that today has found a magic solution except for countries that are extremely far away like New Zealand, but that geographically is a bit different. 

-AP: I didn’t say there was a magic solution. I asked you a question last time, the live feed was cut off, where I asked you about the collateral effects of the measures that are being taken with people dying, suicides etc. 

-ADC: As always, if you want to send messages, run for office, you are a candidate, you are elected to parliament, you have a message. A press conference is for asking questions, not for making political statements. 

CODECO N°4 JANUARY 22, 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: What are your real criteria for what is essential or not in the sense that the New Year’s reception of the Open VLD was essential in view of the flagrant offence and the principle of equality of Belgians before the law1 ? Can you confirm that the organizer and the guests were fined like the others? 

-Alexander De Croo : Just like here, events I participate in, I always ask if the rules are respected, and they were. 

[…]

-AP: I kind of put myself in the shoes of bartenders, restaurant owners, hairdressers, […] to get back to this point of essentials and non-essentials. How do you justify the fact that buses and supermarkets are full, while theaters, cinemas and restaurants are empty, that sports professionals can continue to play, while children, and we know that this is essential for immunity, can no longer play sports? 

-ADC: There are certain activities that we want to maintain, like schools. I don’t think there’s much doubt that we want to keep schools open. Public transport is necessary to be able to move around and I think it’s a good thing that stores are open, but it’s under conditions of rules that are very strict. I can see that the merchants are doing everything to apply them. 

CODECO N°5 FEBRUARY 5, 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: How do you justify the fact that citizens no longer have the right to demonstrate freely? Do you find it normal that police deployments like those of January 31 [manifestation] are systematic? The right to demonstrate is enshrined in the constitution, but people are afraid of being fined, beaten up or arrested and therefore do not demonstrate anymore or are afraid to go and demonstrate. What do you think? 

-Alexander De Croo: There is a right to demonstrate. To demonstrate in a static way with a maximum of one hundred people, but it is up to the cities to decide if they think it is allowed to demonstrate or not. For example, in the town where I live, an authorization was given to hold a demonstration, there were twelve people, but there was an authorization to do so. 

-AP: Are the Prime Minister and his government aware that one of the biggest studies has just come out from a leading epidemiologist at Stanford University? He compared different countries and showed that there is no significant benefit of the most coercive social measures on the spread of 

So SARS-cov‑2, is the government taking these studies into account? Are they going to adapt their measures when we know that the closing of hairdressers, restaurants and bars, the confinement and the curfew have no proof of effectiveness (muted), are you going to take that into account for restaurants or bars? 

-ADC: No. I saw a summary of a study that clearly shows that containment measures are the only measures that have been proven in all countries to have an effect. You cite a study that I have not seen, but there is a summary that shows that containment measures are the measures that are most effective. You see it everywhere. The countries that have a surge, Portugal, Ireland, UK, why did it happen? Because at some point, they let go and the effect was almost immediate. 

CODECO N°6 27 FEBRUARY 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: All the political measures are based on figures that come from PCR tests, which Mr. Van Laethem said that the amplification cycle was much too high, in « Ceci n’est pas un complot ». Are you going to take into account the opinions of other scientists, other studies that say that we must take much lower amplification cycles and that we will no longer confuse positive cases with Covid patients? Because in terms of cost-benefit, it’s a bit catastrophic. 

-Alexander De Croo : You can doubt many things, and many facts. But if you read the newspapers, you’ll see that one thing you see a lot more of, is partings. You can doubt many things, but this is a reality that cannot be denied. 

CODECO N°7 MARCH 5, 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: Sometimes I feel like I’m on the board of directors of Astrazeneca or Pfizer. I understand that you fear for the population, but vaccination is not mandatory and yet I see in the press release you just gave to journalists that your April plan, outdoor plan and plan of massive investments in rapid tests, is conditional on the progress of the vaccination campaign. My question is: if some people, it’s their choice, refuse to be vaccinated, are these plans and therefore this resumption of a normal life going to be conditioned to the vaccination? If people don’t vaccinate, what do we do, is it a right, is it a choice? 

-Alexander De Croo : It is a right, but fortunately we see that many people are vaccinating themselves, it is a good thing. And as Mr. Jeholet said earlier, vaccination is a personal choice, but it is also a collective responsibility. If at some point we want all of us, and certainly our younger population, to be able to have the freedom they hope to have again, there is a direct link to vaccination. I’ll give you an example: in the centers, in the nursing homes, we have seen that hospitalizations have dropped by almost 80% thanks to the fact that people are vaccinated. Vaccination works and fortunately a very large part of the Belgians who receive an invitation accept and get vaccinated. 

-AP: You were talking last time about the fact that your policy measures were based on obituaries and announcements since there were more deaths. Sciensano’s March 3, 2021 bulletin indicates that deaths are only decreasing so they indicate minus 29%. I was wondering where you were going to get your figures if we don’t have the same ones, and in general, would you be ready, after a year of Covid situation, to put on the government website what scientific studies you are basing yourselves on because I repeat: we journalists have others, and we hear other points of view that don’t pass… 

-ADC: First of all, the fact that deaths are decreasing shows that the measures are working. And thankfully the deaths are decreasing because there were times when there were hundreds a day. It was people, friends, brothers, sisters that people had to leave. The scientific basis, the Sciensano reports are public, are available on the different websites, and you can use them, scrutinize and criticize if you want. 

CODECO N°8 19 MARCH 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: Who do you represent, Mr. De Croo? ‑Alexander De Croo: [hésitations]. The federal government and the governments that were part of the Consensus Building Committee. 

-AP: If you are the minister of all Belgians, why don’t you listen to those who think differently from you, why do you base your decisions on a handful of scientists when I have already pointed out to you the mistake raised by many scientists and doctors I meet as a journalist, of basing the count on PCR tests with far too long amplification cycles. I don’t understand why any dissenting voice is censored and I respect and understand your position, but normally in a democracy there should be room for debate and all different positions should be heard. My question is, for Mr. Vandenbroucke as well, why is any dissenting voice censored? 

-ADC: Sir, I understand your question. It’s quite serious what you say: where is the censorship? Where do you see censorship? Is there a voice somewhere that I would have censored? We live in a free country where people can express themselves, can ask questions. I try to be as open as possible to dialogue and I don’t really see where you’re talking about censorship. 

CODECO N°9 24 MARCH 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: On November 27, I asked you a question for which I did not get an answer. Can you quantify the human socio-economic costs of your Covid measures in relation to these benefits? I think it’s important because of what the Belgians are going to go through now for a month and I would like to add that from a psychological point of view, the psychiatric health care is overwhelmed and I have the impression that what is happening is very serious. 

-Alexander De Croo: In any case, Sir, I see that you are here, so you have clearly not been forbidden to come and you have the opportunity to ask questions, so I don’t know what you mean. The cost! Estimating a human cost is difficult. But there are still 22,000 people who have died because of Covid. Sometimes old people, but sometimes very young people too… And some countries that had thought at one point that measures were not necessary, took action anyway. Afterwards, we will analyze the overall cost of the Covid pandemic and whether the measures we took were the right ones or not. But to do the evaluation in the middle of a crisis, I think it’s a bit difficult. The question you ask is clearly one that will be answered at some point. 

CODECO N°10 14 APRIL 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: I would like to broaden the debate a little with regard to the ideological ties that can justify certain decisions… Mr. De Croo, you were a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. You recently had a video conference with Klaus Schwab, president and founder of the Forum. Klaus Schwab predicts that 80% of the hotel and catering industry will not recover from covid, he also says that the poor will be much poorer after covid, he also says that nobody will be safe until the world is vaccinated, while the results in the countries that have vaccinated, should be discussed. The countries that have massively vaccinated like Brazil, Chile or Israel show its little efficiency, its effects on the variants and the risk for the health, some say that we are in an experimental phase and that we are in the end guinea pigs, but that we can discuss it again… 

My question is: what does Klaus Schwab mean to you, Mr. De Croo, and how do the ideas of the World Economic Forum influence the political decisions you take? 

-Alexander De Croo: Not in any way. We make our decisions based on scientific claims, as I said. On what we feel and what we think are prudent and realistic decisions. And those are the decisions we made. 

CODECO N°11 23 APRIL 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: 50% of the people do not adhere to the rules of the government, Mr. Di Rupo reminded us of this last week. Mr. Van Ranst himself is under police protection. Hundreds of doctors and scientists in particular do not agree with the analyses and measures recommended by your experts. This is particularly the case with the CovidRational group, you may be familiar with it [ADC: no]. I would like to mention a few people who are part of it: there is Christine Dupont, bio-engineer and dean of faculty, Olivier Servais, anthropologist and dean of faculty, Raphaël Jungers, professor of mathematics and modeler, Vincent Laborderie, professor of political science, Bernard Rentier, whom you know, virologist, Élisabeth Paul, professor of public health, Irène Mathy, professor of law, Pierre-François Laterre, head of the intensive care unit of Saint-Luc the university clinics; but there are still others that I interviewed: Yves Couvreur, an anatomopathologist, Yves Gailliez, a family doctor, Frédéric Goareguer, child psychiatrist, Christophe De Brouwer who has just been censored on our YouTube channel and who has some very interesting words! 

Belgians want a real debate. For the sake of democracy, for the sake of the Belgian people, are you ready to organize a debate with your experts and some of the professionals I just mentioned? So Mr. De Croo, it is clear that we should not brake in the turn [expression de ADC lors de la conférence de presse], but not everyone sees the turn in the same place. My question is simple, and requires a yes or no: are you willing to have a debate with people other than your experts? Thank you. 

-Alexander De Croo: But Sir, there are no my experts. You think I have some kind of collection of my experts and I open some kind of can with my experts? That’s not how it works. We use a lot of expertise. We look at a lot of opinions and I don’t know where you get the idea that I would refuse to go into dialogue with any of them. The list of names you gave is probably interesting, but I don’t know these people, sir. 

CODECO N°12 11 MAY 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: I have been asking you questions in this very room, in this press room, since November 2020. I asked you about your work with hospitals, about PCR tests that I and others have found to be distorting the number of patients, about your criteria for defining what is essential and non-essential, etc. I feel like I didn’t get any honest, straightforward answers. You see, an answer where you look someone in the eye, you feel like you can have a dialogue. Perhaps this cold management by a partly unelected elite explains the mistrust of the population. Perhaps the tens of thousands of children, teenagers, parents and grandparents who were in the parks in the last few days is not a sign of disrespect or selfishness but that many […] 

-Alexander De Croo : Sir, just a moment, just a moment! If you want to make a presentation somewhere, you rent a room, you invite an audience, they come and listen to you. The goal here is to ask questions, I will answer your questions but you have to ask questions. 

-AP: I see that there are some who can ask several questions, but so be it… At the last press conference, you said the word vaccine 59 times, I have the impression that the path was already mapped out, hence my question: you say that there is no vaccine obligation but at the same time you talk about it all the time. There is a huge and unbelievable propaganda, and you have argued in front of the media that those who are vaccinated will have certain advantages, which is totally contrary to the most basic right. How can you explain this? 

-ADC: Honestly sir, nowhere did I say that someone who is vaccinated has more rights than someone else. By the way, in the formula we talked about for large events, the alternative is always to get tested and show that you have a negative test. There is no obligation to be vaccinated in our country, I think it is a good thing. But what we have in our country is a great motivation. And this motivation is quite extraordinary. 90% of people over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. And I think motivation is much more powerful than obligation and we see that it works in our country. 

CODECO N°13 4 JUNE 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: You said to me at the press conference on May 11: « If you want to make a presentation somewhere, you rent a room, you invite the public, they will come and listen to you. » I took into account your proposal: I rented a room, invited seven speakers from the medical and scientific world that we have heard very little in the mainstream media. I also contacted the government experts who did not answer me or said no. I have sent you an email to ask if you will be present at this debate, which will take place on June 10th. You haven’t answered me yet, will you come? 

-Alexander De Croo: I don’t know, sir, I didn’t see your invitation. We will answer you, it is not the purpose of the press conference, to answer ideas here… 

-AP: But you told me about a debate, that’s why we’re having a debate with seven scientists. 

-ADC: Sir, I can’t comment on something I haven’t read. 

CODECO N°14 ‑18 JUNE 2021 

-Alexandre Penasse: I have the impression that when you speak, vaccination seems mandatory. This is not the case Mr. Vandenbroucke, is it? 

-Alexander De Croo : No sir, vaccination is not mandatory in Belgium but it is important. It’s a nuance. 

-AP: That was just a clarification. Since you, Mr. De Croo and the government experts refused to come to the debate that we organized on June 10. I would like to announce a few points that we talked about at the time since we are in the joy of vaccination, the return to normal life, but it is still important to state a few points… 

-ADC: Sir, the point is for you to ask questions. If you have a small question to ask, ask it, but spouting off here is not the purpose of a press conference. If you want to do a press conference yourself, you can organize it. There may be colleagues of yours who will be coming, but in general, you ask the questions and we answer them. 

-AP: But you decide what questions I can ask? 

-ADC: Ask a question then, go ahead. Yes. 

-AP: Okay, it’s been fifteen months since other experts have had other views that we can’t hear. 

-ADC: You can hear them, sir. 

-AP: If we’re talking about reconfinement, in the fall, will that have any legitimacy? Can you answer all the questions I’ve been asking for the past 15 months? 

-ADC: Sir, you are invited here every time, you have the space, but ask your question… 

-AP: You never answer my question… Will you come and discuss with other scientists, with Mr. Martin Zizi, Louis Fouché, with other people who have other points of view? Will you or one of your experts come and talk to someone else? 

-ADC: I don’t know these people, sir…

-AP: But it doesn’t matter if you know them or not. I ask you if you are going to come?

-ADC: Sir, we’re not in a place where we’re issuing invitations so I don’t know what you’re talking about… 

-AP: There has been only one sound for the past 15 months. 

-ADC: But not at all. In Belgium, all opinions were discussed. And even in the mainstream media, there have been people who do not believe in the vaccine at all. And who were able to talk about it. And they got a lot of space in the press and I think it’s normal that they got a lot of space in the press. What I see is that people generally don’t believe them. In general, people get vaccinated. And you know what happens? People who get vaccinated, they don’t end up in the hospital. And that’s what we see. It is that people have trusted science, and those who have trusted science, they are protected. And that’s a good thing. 

CODECO N°15 17/09/2021

-Alexandre Penasse: Your objective is to vaccinate as many people as possible, including children. However, more and more scientists are calling for the suspension of vaccination in view of the number of deaths and worrying post-vaccination side effects. Maybe they are wrong, but maybe not. I propose you as it is normal in a democracy to come and debate with these people. Do you accept? 

-Alexander De Croo: You have already asked this question, sir. If there were really, as you say, a lot of side effects, a lot of deaths, why would that be something that only you know about then? It’s still pretty amazing. In total, more than 5 billion doses have been administered worldwide. In Belgium, 8.5 million people have been vaccinated. Our services are following this closely. There is no indication that the vaccine is unsafe. You have information that no one else has. It’s possible, but it’s pretty amazing. 

-AP: But it’s debatable.

-ADC: Sir, I am ready to debate many things, but with people who are serious about it. 

-AP: One more quick question. Why implement a Covid Safe Ticket that will segregate people, when we know that vaccinated people can still be infected and contagious. I assume you’re looking at the numbers from Israel, the US and the UK. 

-ADC: As I said in my introduction, vaccines are safe and vaccines reduce the risk of getting sick or ending up in the hospital by more than 90%. Moreover, in all European countries, we can see that in countries that have vaccinated a lot, the epidemiological situation is clearly improving. So I find it a little odd that you continue to doubt. It’s a bit like doubting the fact that the sun rises every morning. You see every day that vaccines work, you see that there are more and more people who are motivated to do it. So if you say « I don’t believe in it », that’s your choice. But please don’t endanger others. 

CODECO N°16 26/10/2021

-Alexandre Penasse: Please allow me to take off my mask, I have trouble breathing. I will do as you do… Mr. Vandenbroucke recently received a letter indicating that vaccination of caregivers and young people was useless and counterproductive because it neither prevents contamination nor reduces the viral load of individuals. Let me give you a quick example that is not a sham: On September 23, theIrish Examiner announced that in the city of Waterford 99.7% of people over 18 years of age were fully vaccinated. This is the highest figure in Europe. However, on October 11, Waterford News and Star announces that the city has the highest incidence rate in Ireland. I ask you: is the Covid Safe Ticket useless when it promotes contamination? And it’s proven. 

-Frank Vandenbroucke: Let’s be clear: without vaccines, we would be witnessing an unprecedented health, economic and social disaster. The risk of contamination and the risk of hospitalization is reduced in a very very very significant way when one is vaccinated. But as I said before, it’s a bit like an umbrella: vaccines are an excellent umbrella that protects against rain. But if it rains heavily, if it is windy, there are people even with umbrellas who are wet. It’s rare, but it happens. And that’s what we’re experiencing now. So there are too many viruses. But thanks to vaccination, we are not in a catastrophic situation, but we must reduce the circulation of the virus. As far as the Covid Safe Ticket is concerned, of course, it is not an absolute security. There is no absolute security. And so, as the Prime Minister said, we need to combine security and we also need to rely on common sense. And I repeat the example: an organizer of a very small public event, 45 people can use the Covid Safe Ticket. And I believe that many organizers prefer this because it creates a little more security. If at the same time, you attend an event where there is the Covid Safe Ticket, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ventilate. Therefore, a combination of security measures is required. It is the addition of security measures that is the winning formula. And so, let’s stop clichéd debates, simplistic debates about vaccination, Covid Safe Ticket, ventilation, wearing a mask. There is no such thing as a silver bullet that reduces risk to zero, it doesn’t exist. There is the combination of instruments. 

Roland De Wind

  1. https://www.lesoir.be/349393/article/2021–01-17/voeux-de-nouvel-de-lopen-vld-la-photo-qui-fait-polemique
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